Postmen in the Mountains Movie Review

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If you want to make a grown man cry at the movies, give him a story about an estranged father and son who reconcile and come to love and respect each other before it's too late. Postmen in the Mountains is such a tale, told amidst the stunning mountain scenery of China's remote Hunan province. It's a simple and moving story, a walk in the woods that leads to a beautiful and uplifting conclusion.

The unnamed father (Rujun Ten) is a rural postman whose job entails humping a huge backpack full of mail on a three-day walk through the mountains, stopping at all the tiny villages along the way. He's done it several times a month for 25 years, never missing a trip. Now the postal bureaucrats have forced him into retirement because his legs, ruined by the arduous route, have started to give out. As the film begins, the father has passed the route on to his son, and the son is ready to make his first trip.

But what about Lao'er, the father's loyal German Shepard who has accompanied him on all his journeys? As the son leaves, Lao'er won't go with him, choosing instead to stay at the father's side. Dad decides to come along on one final journey to show his son the ropes and introduce him to the villagers who live along the route. Off they go, with Lao'er leading the way.

It doesn't take long for the son to realize that his father is not the man he thought he was. All his life, the son has seen him as a stranger, a cold and distant man who was home only a few days a month and scared him when he'd return from his trips. At the first village, the father demonstrates great kindness to an old and blind granny and tells her his son will continue to read her letters to her, just as he has done all these years. When they leave town, the entire village comes out to wish the old man well and to get a look at the new postman. The son sees that out here, being a postman is important. He's regarded as a sort of Chinese Santa Claus, and people eagerly await his arrival.

At one point, the two approach a river. Lao'er dives right in and paddles across, but the son offers to carry his father across to spare his legs the shock of the cold water. The father agrees, and as he piggybacks across, he flashes back to the times when he carried his son on his shoulders. It's a serious lump-in-the-throat moment that winds up with the two sitting on the far shore and sharing a pipe as three ancient waterwheels churn on the hill behind them.

More challenges await on the mountain route. To reach one mountaintop village, the two men have to be literally hauled up the side of a cliff by a rope (while the dog climbs it easily). Up top they meet more friendly villagers, all of whom tell the son what a great man and good friend his father is. Spending the night in a village shack, the father watches his son sleep, and the pride and love in his eyes is powerful.

And that's about it. Father and son end their journey, and as the son prepares to go out again, Lao'er follows him willingly. The torch is passes, and the son walks over the same stone bridge that his father has crossed countless times before.

Besides being extremely moving, Postmen in the Mountains is also extremely interesting. Director Jianqi Huo has taken his camera into a corner of China that few westerners ever see, sharing not only its rustic beauty but also its abject poverty. The movie has an almost documentary feel at times, but that's not to say it's boring. On the contrary, this story of a father and son coming to terms with each other is quietly thrilling from start to finish.

Aka Nashan naren nagou.

Neither rain nor sleet nor mountain will stop these postmen.

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Postmen in the Mountains Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1999

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